How much does it cost to have a baby?

sleeping-baby-august-2009There's quite a bit of talk about how expensive babies are. To be honest, I'm quite bewildered by that because a baby's first year of life doesn't have to be a big-ticket affair. Certainly, there are added expenses, but there are so many ways to drive down the cost.

Babies really need very little. Snuggles. Sweetness. Something to eat. Somewhere to lay their heads to sleep.

Consider these ten tips:

1. Give birth at a birth center (or at home). You can save an estimated 30-50% by delivering at a birth center instead of a hospital. To find out more about birth centers, read my past article: Birth Centers 101. To read about my personal experience giving birth at a hospital for baby #1 and at a birth center for baby #2, read: Birth Centers versus Hospitals. To find a birth center near you, visit the AABC website. Or you can choose to give birth at home - an even less expensive option.

2. Breastfeed. La Leche League reports that "A woman who formula- feeds her baby will spend more than $100 (US) each month on formula, and that's only if she buys the least-expensive concentrated powder..." Multiply that by 12…at the least, you’ll spend $1,200 a year on formula. If you go with the pricier brands, you could end up spending over $6,000! If you compare that to the cost of breastfeeding (um…$0), there really is no comparison. Not to mention all of the health benefits to baby and to you.

3. Skip the elaborate baby nursery. When you are pregnant, people will inevitably ask you if the "nursery" is "done." Just smile and nod, smile and nod. The commercial baby industry would have us believe that we need the whole matchy-matchy ensemble - painted walls, curtains, crib sheets and bumper, changing table, framed artwork, etc. While it is perfectly okay if you WANT to decorate that dream area just like in the catalogs, it is 100% unnecessary. Many babies don't even sleep in their "own rooms" anyway and, even if they do, I promise you THEY won't care a bit if the room is decorated with teddy bears, tutus, tiggers, or turquoise.

4. Don't go bananas over baby gear. When you get those super long baby registry checklists at Babies R Us and Target, you'll be tempted to buy a long list of products: a crib, a swing, a bouncy chair, a baby seat, a car seat cover, a device that lets you hear baby's heartbeat in the womb, etc. Be weary of such lists. In fact, I highly recommend that you promptly tear out the list and throw it in the garbage. The best baby gear advice is probably to "wait and see." Some families use cribs; some families don't. Some babies like swings; some babies don't. Some babies like to be swaddled super tight; some babies don't. Etc. When it comes to baby gear, waiting is wise.

5. Remember that toys are overrated. Point A: Itty bitty babies don't play with toys. Point B: Even older babies don't play with many toys (they will just as soon play with your water bottle or a cardboard box). Point C: People will likely give you more toys than your child will really need. Point D: Most kids like imaginative activities (riding bikes, making mud pies, painting, blowing bubbles, etc.) better than playing with toys. Point E: Most toys are cheap-y, plastic things made of questionable materials. Conclusion? Your baby does not need you to buy them toys - especially in the 1st year of life.

6. Rediscover the wonder of the public library. Books, DVDs, CDs...all at your fingertips. Plus, there are storytimes and events and programs. Did I mention the whole experience is FREE?

7. Make friends with nature. Entertainment at its best occurs in the great wide open. Go for a walk. Have a picnic. Stargaze. Watch the clouds. Babies love that - as should we. Nature is good for the soul - and that "attraction" doesn't cost a dime.

8. Get chummy with CraigsList. Let's say you have your heart set on buying a swing or an ERGObaby carrier or a video monitor. Before you head to a baby department store, check CraigsList. You'll probably find that some of the items for sale are barely used or even brand new.

9. Don't be ashamed of secondhand style. Even if you don't like shopping at thrift stores, yard sales, and consignment shops for yourself...consider it for your wee ones. Babies grow out of things so fast. And you can get pieces at pretty amazing prices if you know where to look. Another option is to host a clothes swap in your home with friends.

10. Consider being a stay-at-home mom (or encourage your husband to be a stay-at-home dad). When you factor in child care expenses, wear-and-tear on vehicles, and medical bills (kids in childcare tend to get sick more often than their at-home counterparts), that second income dwindles quite a bit. In fact, I know some couples who end up PAYING to go to work.

Sometimes I talk to women who tell me how "lucky" I am to be able to stay at home or how they wish they could, but..."luck" has nothing to do with it. I want to make it very, very clear that I am not "lucky" to be a stay-at-home mom. I choose it. We choose it. We have a smaller house than we can afford. We have used cars. We eat in. What it comes down to is choices. You can be a stay-at-home parent too (if you want).

And there are always work-from-home options as well...

YOUR TURN: What are your top money-saving tips for baby's first year?

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30 comments on “How much does it cost to have a baby?”

  1. Awesome post. So down to earth and true. I am doing my baby registry now and am overwhelmed by the amount of ridiculous and useless CRAP out there, ugh! We won't have a nursery- baby doesn't need his/her own room, for a while and even at that I'm not going to spend $500 bucks decorating. We are saving up to my a home, that's far more important jungle themed curtains and lightswitch plates haha.

  2. I see those so-called studies about how costly it is to have a baby and think they are ridiculous. Just negative people who have not experienced the PRICELESS joy of a child. We could not have spent that much if we tried!! Maybe if we got the 32 dollar onsies. We have 2 under 4 and spent very little extra. Diapers and the nursery furniture were the biggest expenses.
    Only thing would add is mom-to-mom sales. They are the best, local sales for used furniture, toys, clothes. I get bag-fulls everytime I go for under $20 and I am set for Christmas, B-days, anything, for the next year. People can find their local ones online with a simple search.

  3. i think you hit the bulls eye on this one. there's not much i wouldn't add. your other commenters have some great things to say too. i know this probably falls under the stay at home parent thing but i also find going out with your kids instead of always being so desperate to leave them at home with a babysitter is a great money saver.

  4. So many like mamas on this blog, its great! Love all the tips, many of which I already do myself.

    I hope its ok to mention another blog. I love Angie's blog over at where she shows you how to save big bucks on baby stuff. One example, each week she posts where the diaper sales are. No more checking those Sunday ads! She also posts other sales, baby coupons, and diaper reviews.

  5. Love this post! I started making my own baby food...didn't do that for #1 but with #2 being such a tricky eater at first I started making it. Thankfully lots of our friends have kids around the same age, so we swap clothes and toys quite often. We don't have that many toys for our kids. They are happy with paper towel rolls, wooden spoons, blocks, cardboard boxes. We do have toys, but most have been given to us. A bucket of water and a paintbrush will keep my daughter occupied for a half an hour as she 'paints' the house outside.

    I also completely agree with you on the decorating the nursery bit. We didn't paint or decorate their room really. Kids don't know, or really care for that matter, what is on their walls. I did make my own letters that spelled their names and put those up. Saved a heap of money by making my own! I also just made four more projects for my neices and nephews. Will be blogging about that in the next few days.

    You do such a great job of encouraging people to be wise with their time, money and resources! I mentioned in a previous comment how much I agree with and value your view on making the choice to stay at home with the children. If I were to work, I would be working to pay for childcare...doesn't make sense for our family.

  6. I'm so down with all those tips. also, we use cloth diapers and wipes. (my in-laws actually helped out and bought half of our diapers for us - making our initial start up smaller).

    now that we have two in diapers, we're saving nealy $50 a month on diapers and wipes. And I have barely noticed any change in our energy bills from the washing (we line dry).

  7. You are so right!! I agree with you on all of your tips!! Little ones really don't cost too much if you REALLY want these gifts from Heavenly Father!! They are precious!

  8. These are all great points. When I was pregnant I knew my baby was going to sleep in my room so I didn't do a nursery and I swear when I told people (because they all ask) they looked at me like I had a green head coming out my ear.

    Breastfeeding and cloth diapering are key for us. The initial output for cloth diapers was a good chunk of money but now they cost nothing.

  9. Don't you just get so tired of being told how privileged you are to be able to stay at home? Like you're sitting around in pj's all day eating caviar and drinking fine champagne, instead of working your butt off raising children and staying frugal so you can afford to stay home. Makes me a little crazy.

  10. You and I must be kindred spirits or something. Oh, and YES for the stay at home dad plug! I completely agree that to have someone spend time with the kid whether a mother or a father is a necessity. You have said exactly what so many people are too timid to admit (including myself). For the most part the two income argument is a crock. And, I don't know much about breast feeding except that it's cheap and healthy. I've been trying to find a member of la leche league to guest post on my blog about the benefits, outside of the obvious financial, of breastfeeding. I'm a dad so it's a little hard for me to sound authoritative on it.

  11. I agree with everything on this list. I get most of my kids clothes at the Just Between Friends consignment sale in my area (it's a nationwide franchise... just have to check and see if there is one in your area) we've also gotten birthday and Christmas presents there for cheap :) The best thing though is that I can turn around and resell stuff at the next sale. I do shop garage sales and thrift stores but like to save up and just shop at the JBF sale twice a year because then I get most of my shopping done at once. After the sale I make a list of the few things we still need that I wasn't able to find and then I start checking clearance aisles for those items. Also the JBF sale is a doubly good deal for me because I trade out design work with the local franchise owner for credit at the sale - win, win situation! Oh and I love hand-me-downs!

    Being a stay-at-home mom is the best thing I can do for my family. We make sacrifices, but they are well worth it. Fortunately I am able to earn a bit of money by working from home as well.

    Baby gear and toys? Who would have thought that one little girl could get so much stuff so quickly!?!

  12. Stephanie,
    I love this! The idea of "not going bananas" and keeping things simple is great. And wise. They grow so fast anyway, right? Why spend a ton of money on outfits and shoes when they'll be wearing a new size next month. Hand-me-downs from neighbors and friends were a great time and money saver for me, and for those times we did buy new clothes/toys for the kids (we did that too...because how can you resist sometimes?), it was fun to pass those onto friends later on for their kids to use. :)

  13. I have to say you make very good points. Especially about the baby gear. How will an infant know what they're missing if they've never had it? We never used a swing for our children. And do they mind? No, they didn't know the difference. We also were lucky to have all of our children close in age. So a lot of hand me downs. We also cloth diaper, the sticker shock is a bit much. But you can build your stash little by little while you're expecting. You will save so much money (almost $2,500) from birth to potty training. Plus it's great for the environment! DYK that cloth diapered children tend to potty train sooner also? That is an added bonus.

  14. Amen, Stephanie!!! Every point is so true, especially #1. The cost of having our second child at a birth center was what we paid in out-of-pocket insurance expenses when I had our first child in the hospital. If we would have had to pay the hospital bills outright, the hospital would have been well over $10,000, whereas the birth center was over 80% less. Birth centers are a much better choice if you do not have health insurance. Plus, they listen to you, trusting that your body knows what it's doing. We also love the fact that, as long as you and baby are doing well and pass all "tests" for four hours after delivery, you are free to go home. With our second child, it was the best feeling to just go home, sleep in my own bed, and recover in a more comfortable environment...hours after delivering. You can just take a guess at where I'm delivering baby #3...even if we were rich beyond our wildest dreams, I'd still deliver at the birth center. :)

  15. Great post for a new mom.

    I'm a craigslist fanatic. Currently, I'm shopping around for baby gates (we're coming up on crawling soon!), and a stokke tripp trapp highchair. Craigslist has been great for us! Unfortunately, I'd like to say freepeats, but it really doesn't seem to have taken off here in Seattle. I'm sure it just needs more time to continue to build.

    However, to add to #4 (waiting and seeing what baby wants for gear), I highly recommend borrowing from friends! That way, you get to try something (ex- exersaucer, swing, sling, etc) with your baby and see if they like it, before you buy it.

  16. We've got a lot of the same ideas, and I can't really think of anything else right now. Whoever invented hand-me-downs is pretty close to Jesus in my mind. :) I just wish diapers were cheaper, or that the cheaper brands worked on my kids. We'll be out soon enough!

  17. I just wanted to add in that love #10. I get annoyed by people who tell me I'm so lucky to stay at home. My husband and I have sacraficed a lot to make it work. Of course I use the word "sacrafice" mildly because really, I'd give up everything to stay at home with my kids.

  18. I totally love this post. I especially like #10. When I tell someone that I am staying home with my kids, my "favorite" response is when they say, "well, that must be nice," said with just the slightest bit of sarcasm. I just smile and say that, yes, it is nice.

    And we get tons of ours kids' stuff at second hand stores. It does require some planning and thinking ahead, though. You can't just run into the thrift store and come out with what you need.

    Erin T. is so right, stuff is so overrated. The less stuff the better, and the less stuff you buy, the more money you save!


  19. There are lots of ways to save! For me medical has always been exspensive. I unfortanly had to have 3 c-sections (grateful that they exsist otherwise I would not be here to raise my beautiful kids. Then things happen as they get older especially boys. Such as this weekend my youngest pulled the chair and broke his finger and had to have surgery on it. The unexpected medical is what cost me the most!! Everything elso I would agree. I have become much more aware that we don't need all the "STUFF." It is over-rated!

  20. Freecycle, Freecycle, Freecycle. I get so much stuff for my baby from there, including toys, clothes, books, and other gear, it's not funny.

    Stuff I won't buy second hand: mattresses and car seats. There's no good way to clean a mattress, and if there were any allergens around it (including animal dander, dust mites, fleas, or cigarette smoke) there's no good way to get them out. And car seats second-hand are really sketchy. There's no way to guarantee that they weren't in an accident, and you want to make sure that your baby is in a car seat with the highest safety standards.

  21. When I hear the stats on what babies cost, I wonder, "What are these people buying?!!!" But, then the more time we begin to spend with other mothers and children, the more I see. They buy stuff. Lots and lots of stuff...unnecessary stuff. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a cute home, nice clothes, and pretty furniture, but I get all or most of it second hand. And, actually, if you keep your eyes (and imagination) open you can get loads of stuff for free. When I think about spending money on something, I first consider if the price is worth the time it takes to earn it. It rarely is.

  22. I have to tell you, I love to hear your opinion about stay at home moms. It's funny. The moms who tell me that they wish they could stay at home are the ones with a new outfit every time I see them, designer purses and designer shoes on their kids. Being a stay at home mom is a state of mind more than anything else. Sacrifices have to be made, yes, but you will still be able to pay your bills and eat.

  23. I agree with you on most everything, but we live fairly frugally and still have to have two incomes. I think it is because we live in Massachusetts, high cost of living. We actually were visiting family in Maine and are seriously considering moving there as it will be less expensive.

  24. I love all your tips.. Although I personally would not do a birthing center... For me I don't pay more than $500 when I give birth at a hospital and I stay the 2 days(with insurance of course)... anyway, I would suggest that people start sewing. I know right now it seems really popular to refashion old items and you are saving money by not having to by new items. Sewing machines are not too expensive unless you want all the bells and whistles that comes with a nice one... And you can buy a yard of fabric for just a couple of dollars and make several pairs of baby pants or dresses or whatever you can think of for a lot less then you would buy at the store. Plus your baby would be wearing something totally unique and made by you!!!

  25. Great Post Stephanie. I would also add that while you are fueling yourself with wonderful healthy foods for your milk, you can also make your own baby food fairly cheap as well.

    I also frequent a site in my local area that is a "free market" It often has everything from diapers to gear that people are just getting rid of. As well as checking out garage sales and your local once upon a child.

    For the amount of cost there is by far a return of about a million times more fun, love and memories. ;0)

  26. What a great list! I totally agree...especially about the stay at home mom. People are always telling me how they wish they could stay home, but I just don't see how it benefits to go to work. The cost of child care is outrageous and you have to be making a huge salary to make anything after paying for that. But the benefits of being home with your baby/child is so much greater then any amount of money you could bring in. We knew I would stay home once we had our 1st child and made the arrangements to pay off as much while I was working and have cut back on all outside expensive and we don't miss the going out life at all...I am where I am supposed to be home!!

  27. I think all of these are great...definitely a birth center is the way to go for SO many reasons, with the finanical one being just an extra benefit.

    I don't think breastfeeding costs nothing...because yes of course, breastmilk is best, but it's only as good as what you fuel your body with, which means organic healthy foods and more water than usual. Hopefully this is already being done, but breastfeeding requires a bit more of each. Then there are things like reusable breast pads, clothes you can easily/comfortably nurse in, nursing pillows, etc. etc....but STILL way cheaper than formula. Not to mention the incredible health benefits and decreased medical bills. Breastfeeding also requires alot of time too of course...I still spend about 2.5 hours of my day bfding I bet, if not more :). But OF COURSE completely worth every second!

    Definitely buy secondhand clothing for your kiddos...they grow so fast. We only clothed our baby in organic clothes for awhile and that's what we were comfortable with until she was past a certain age...but then we started to do pretty much all secondhand most of the time with special outfits being organic or otherwise.

    Definitely cosleep/bed share and skip all the silly nursery stuff!!! I would add cloth diaper too but then more so, I would say Elimination Communication!!! Both will save a ton of money with ECing saving way more.

    I would also add baby-led weaning/eating. DON'T do "baby food" or rice cereal and not at least until 6 months, but preferably later. This is due to SO many health and development reasons not to mention it's way cheaper too.

    And yes, definitely #10...people say the "lucky" thing to me all the time. No, it's a conscious choice we make...we do without lots of things to make it happen. We would have rather lived in a tiny apartment and had nothing then send our child to a daycare and have someone else raise her. Yes in some situations it does truly HAVE to be done to feed and clothe (single parent, extremely low income family, etc.) but it's not what people make it out to be. Alot of people work for things rather than working to survive.

    Great post!!! I'm enjoying this series very much.

  28. FANTASTIC ideas for new mamas!!!! Although, sadly, number one actually COST us money--- our insurance would only pay for a hospital birth... we opted for a beautiful birthing center and paid out of pocket. ohhhhhhh so worth it! But that is a great option for folks that do not have insurance--- they will save a TON.

  29. Great post! I especially agree with you on number 10...we know quite a few friends who say this to us often. You are so right, it is all about choices. There are many "material" things that can be done without. I too am all about the second-hand store or hand-me-downs.

    My best advice to save during the first year would be to breast feed as well. I know that this time around, we also plan on using cloth diapers...which I'm really excited about.

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